Democrats’ Gloom Premature; Gore Stands Strong Chance To Win
by Dana Chasin
In the end, the 2000 Presidential election may be determined by whether Democrats or Republicans are worse perforators. In all seriousness, the outcome of the vote in Florida and, therefore, the nation, hangs on the “chad,” an incompletely-perforated ballot hole which may or may not yield a vote in a machine count, while a human hand count would probably include it, yielding a discrepancy that could make all the difference.
The consternation, if not gloom, that has descended on Democrats in the aftermath of the election is premature. One caveat: Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ preliminary ruling enforcing a deadline for certification of the election results by every Florida county is this Tuesday. If Harris’ ruling is not overturned, a badly-skewed official state vote total may result. But presumably, the ruling announced Monday, by Harris, a leading GOP fundraiser and co-chair of the Bush campaign in Florida this year who has expressed interest in becoming a U.S. Ambassador, will be challenged and easily overturned.
If so, a hard look at the numbers points to a strong chance for Vice President Al Gore to carry Florida and win the Presidency. Importantly, it appears Gore can win purely on the basis of vote counts, without resort to litigation.
By a quirk of fate, the four Florida counties where perforation-type ballots gave rise to calls for hand counts, are highly Democratic ones. This fact, plus the Bush campaign’s potentially fatal failure to ask for manual recounts in any counties in time – they had 72 hours after the election to do so – means that Gore is very likely to gain thousands of votes more than Bush when ballots in four key counties have been hand counted, pull and finish ahead of Bush, and win the election.
A little not-so-fuzzy math is in order to clarify.
First, of course, many of Florida’s absentee ballots remain to be counted. 15,000 such ballots were mailed out to Florida voters this year, many of them military personnel stationed overseas.
Let us assume a worst case for Gore:
1] that there is significantly greater than average voter participation among those requesting absentee ballots, and say that 67 percent of this group voted, that is, that 10,000, of these ballots will ultimately be received as valid votes;
2] that fully half, or 5,000 of these votes have for various reasons (mail delays) yet to be returned and counted – an assumption very generous to Bush – and announced on Friday, November 17, the deadline by which all absentee ballots must be received;
3] and that Bush will win 60 percent, or 3,000, of these to-be-counted votes, Gore only 40 percent, or 2,000 of the absentee vote – again, generous to Bush, since Dole, a war hero, beat Clinton in 1996 by 54-40. On this analysis, Bush would manage a total gain from the absentee ballots of about 1,000 votes, at most.
Against this must be measured the gains Gore can expect from the hand counts of the “undercount” – ballots without complete perforations read by machines as blank and not counted – in four counties, Palm Beach, Dade, Brower, and Volusia. In the only test yet of what a hand recount will yield – Saturday’s hand count of the ballots in four Palm Beach county precincts, representing one percent of the county’s population – Gore gained 19 votes.
On the basis of the Gore gains, the Palm Beach county Board of Elections voted early Sunday morning to order a countywide hand recount of the Palm Beach’s 10,000 undercounted ballots. Countrywide results from the recount of these ballots in the four chosen precincts extrapolate to a Gore gain of 1,900 countrywide. To be conservative again, let’s assume that these four precincts overstate the Gore gains countywide, and extrapolate a Palm Beach gain for Gore of only 1,000 votes, alone sufficient to offset Bush’s absentee ballot gains.
But with Palm Beach’s 10,000 estimated undercounted ballots, the 10,500 more in Dade County, 6,500 in Broward, and 1,800 in Volusia, the total number of undercounted ballots in the four counties is about 30,000. To extrapolate conservatively, let’s assume again that the Palm Beach precincts overstate projected Gore gains by two times. This still gives Gore 3,000 additional votes from recounts by hand, three times the number he needs to top Bush’s absentee gains.
The first indication that the this analysis and its implications have dawned on the Bush campaign was signaled by former Secretary of State James Baker’s announcement on Saturday that the campaign will sue in federal court to bar further hand counts. It confirms the campaign’s anxiety about the trend of the hand counting. It opens Bush up to charges of hypocrasy, as he himself signed the Texas law permitting hand counting of undercounted ballots. And the court will almost certainly dismiss the suit, a challenge to the constitutionally of Florida’s election laws, in summary fashion. Finally, the suit is a major tactical risk, as litigating prior to the final vote count, including the absentee count, may strike the American public as premature, if not obstructive.
Gore’s ace-in-the-hole is the Constitution itself. In the event that delays prevent Florida from appointing electors in time for the December 18 electoral college vote, Article XII provides that “the person having the greatest number of [electoral] votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed.” In other words, Gore can win with fewer than 270 electoral votes and does not need Florida’s electoral votes. Even if Bush wins currently undecided New Mexico, the electoral college vote, absent Florida’s electors, would be Gore 262, Bush 251, bringing it more into line with the current popular vote.
This analysis could be derailed by a few events. Harris’ ruling may lead to a bargain in which a statewide hand count is ordered. If this happens, or if Bush sues to get a statewide hand count, Florida courts could order one, which would yield unpredictable results. Bush may still demand recount in states with narrow margins for Gore, such as Oregon, Wisconsin and Iowa.
The hand counting process – pursuant to determining the full, fair, and actual vote and will of Florida voters – is extremely cumbersome, time-consuming, and could try the nation’s patience. But not nearly as much as would litigation, not just because of weeks or months of delay but, more importantly, due to the prospect of a court-ordered election outcome.
Barring unforseen developments, however – an absurdity, perhaps, under the circumstances – the math is immutable and suggests strongly that both the Democrats’ gloom and Bush’s transition plans are premature.
DANA CHASIN is President of the Empire State Democratic Initiative (ESDI), a statewide membership organization providing opportunities to younger citizens of New York State to participate in the political process.